Grow up in a certain time and place and the oddest things will seem normal to you. Mood rings and pet rocks, earth shoes and bell bottoms were things we never really questioned in the 70’s. And if you grew up in a society where they cut the heart out of a virgin in order to appease the volcano god, well, that seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do at the time.
Of course, you see the absurdity of it all, don’t you? You see the madness of a society that advocated slavery or wearing powdered wigs in order to look important, right? That’s the thing; when you’re outside of it it’s easy to see what is wrong with a given era. But when you’re trapped inside of it, it’s almost impossible to see the absurdity that takes place right under your nose. There is some fundamental flaw in the human intellect that leaves a person blind to the obvious if those around him are similarly unaware. We are tied to a greater communal mind in ways we cannot understand and are unlikely to admit. We are less the rugged individualists we see ourselves as and more like the sheep we tend to mock. We tend to rebel in more or less the same way. Hence tattoos as a symbol of self-expression, because a Maori design on your shoulder so marks you as an individual.
You see, a given mindset is a hard thing to shake. We all want to believe we are free from biases, but the evidence suggests otherwise. But as much as mindsets are quick to come and go, there is one bias common to the sun worshippers of primitive times and modern day hipsters: we all believe that we were born in the one place and time that got it right.
This is not to blame those who are unable to see past their own backyards, as it seems to be something universal in our nature. But by realizing our penchant for group-think we should arm ourselves against it. We can do this by deliberately stepping beyond the borders of the here and now, and perhaps the best way to do this is through reading. By reading we can visit other lands and times, can permit another’s mind to guide us through a different train of thought. But do not read a book about Victorian England written by a contemporary writer for this purpose as it will contain contemporary biases. Read a book written in a different age. It doesn’t so much matter if it is a classic, a romance, or a comic, you will know it for what it is. If a child’s story, you will see how an adult spoke to a child in a different era.
Read an old magazine and glance through the advertisement as well as the articles. Immerse yourself in a different environment. When you return from it you will see things differently.
That is what troubles me about libraries is that they are quickly replacing those testaments of ages passed with new interpretations of them. But like a photograph, anything that is copied loses some fidelity with each copy that is made. Go back to the original, back to the source, the real thing, or at least as close as possible. The powers that be of any given age wish to keep you blind to other perspectives, wish to have you see the world in the way they are trying to paint it. They want to purge the world of historical perspective, which is why The History Channel has day-long blocks of Pawn Stars and Car Wars or whatever the hell they are showing nowadays. Step outside of the cage others would make for you, or else the heart that is sacrificed to the volcano god might just be yours.